The trans movement is currently in the 6th stage of Claudia Albano’s 8-step framework. It might not have entered majority public opinion but it has finally gotten over the perception of failure. The biggest trigger moment that has taken place within the movement is the death of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. Her death inspired the Trans Day of Remembrance and set a tone for the modern movement that focuses on not only representing trans people but more importantly protecting trans people. While the movement has broadened to be more inclusive and accessible to trans people of color as well as those with varying gender identities, it has failed in creating a separate platform for trans identities and opinions to be realized into legislature and in turn be actualized into concrete paradigm shift. For example, while there is widespread recognition of the existence of the movement, trans rights are not taught in school curriculum to the same degree as civil rights, although both are issues concerning human rights. Such failures of the movement stem from the way that trans activism has been popularized: most trans figures or activists devote most of their activism to image promotion, representation in the entertainment industry, or individual acts of raising awareness for the trans existence. Thus, most public opinion stemmed from these individual representations of the community and the movement, and their long-term goals of social and legal equality cannot move far beyond the shift in culture. There is simply not enough action being taken within the movement for concrete success.
Despite these failures, the Trans Rights Movement has come a long way since its beginning. Originally, their goals were more focused on making it “okay” to be trans. They worked to make it legal to undergo gender reassignment surgery and socially acceptable to be trans. Furthermore, they have had success in helping the public understand that being trans is not a choice. In the past, it was widely thought that people chose to be trans, and therefore any lost family, friends, social positions, or work positions were their fault. On top of that, trans prisoners were not permitted to live as their gender identity and were forced to conform to sex assigned to birth. Sex assignment surgery and hormone therapy was thought of as unnecessary, illogical, and a trivial need. Thankfully, this is no longer true. Although some communities still make it extremely difficult for trans people to get access to surgery or hormones, the desire to seek gender reassignment is no longer widely thought of as secondary or wrong. Today, the major goals of the trans community and the Trans Rights Movement have shifted more towards making actual legislative change, providing resources for trans youth, and getting more representation and acceptance in media. Over the past two years, the trans community has worked to make it legal for trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. On top of that, organizations such as the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Trevor Project provide easy lists on the rights that trans people have and resources for suicide prevention among trans youth. Finally, trans people on social media have rallied to make portrayals of trans individuals in television and film to be more accurate and based in reality.
In comparison to Epstein’s critique of the feminist movement, ultimately, the trans movement is in danger of becoming institutionalized or marginalized even if the values of the movement become rhetorically accepted. But unlike the women’s movement, which according to her was “weakened along with other progressive movements by this loss in confidence in the possibility that collective action can bring about social change (350),” the trans movement has sought to recruit from a diverse group of people both within and outside the community. Gamson raises a similar question concerning the success of the movement: will “the group gain the advantages it sought – for example, the passage of the legislation that it desired? (383)” And therein lies the biggest roadblock in the path of the trans movement’s success: there’s a lack of attention to legislative measures that can ultimately create the paradigm shift that the movement desires. The trans movement has been able to think one-dimensionally about the “spokesman” and the laws that can create invaluable social change for the trans community, but the movement has not failed to recognize the important connection between the two.
-Sylvie and Kat
- Gamson, William A. 1990. The Strategy of Social Protest. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, pp. 28-31.
- Epstein, Barbara. 2001. “What Happened to the Women’s Movement?” in Monthly Review 53(1), pp. 1013.
- The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts, Third Edition. Edited by Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper. 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.